As I walked into the classroom, my palms were coated with a thin veil of sweat. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, hands, head, everywhere. I felt my brain spiraling as I realized the moment that I had been dreading was becoming a reality. The room was empty except for my teacher, perched at a desk in the front of the room.
“You can start whenever you’re ready,” she said, distractedly shuffling the papers in front of her.
As soon as she looked at me, I began to speak. “My name is Natasha and today I’ll be talking about my experience in China. First… first…”. My heart stopped. I couldn’t remember what I wanted to talk about! My nervous mind scrambled to think of anything to say, but in that instant, I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t think of anything, say anything, even think to ask to start over. I was frozen. We only had two minutes in the room. What was I going to do?
I stumbled over the few words that I was able to remember and strung them into two incoherent sentences before apologizing to my teacher; I was mortified. She comforted me and told me there was nothing to worry about, after which I hurried out of the room, out of the hallway, out of the building.
As I left the room, I felt confused and upset, but mostly disappointed in what I considered the complete and total failure of a Chinese speaking exam I had just given. After six years of learning Chinese and taking oral tests, how had I managed to mess up one this simple? All I had to do was write a script, memorize it, and recite it to the teacher in less than two minutes. My mind couldn’t fathom that I had been unable to complete the task.
I consider that oral exam my first failure at Berkeley and in the two years that have passed since, I have become so grateful for that experience. I came to Berkeley because I felt a vibrancy on this campus that I didn’t feel anywhere else and because I could sense that I was going to learn a lot here. What I neglected to realize before I got here and even in my first year as a student is that in order to grow, you must experience discomfort, exactly as I did in that classroom; that’s how you learn!
I realized that discomfort is necessary for growth both inside and outside the classroom. At Berkeley, I have found many ways to find this discomfort, to challenge and push myself, and ultimately to become a better student and person because of it. I pushed myself to take a physics class to broaden the scope of my knowledge. I pushed myself to apply for a job where I would regularly have to speak eloquently in front of large groups of people. I push myself to actively listen to people I disagree with.
From this perspective, any interaction can be taken as an opportunity to learn. With this approach to life, I have learned more about myself, from my peers, and in the classroom than I ever could have imagined, and Berkeley has been the perfect place to do it.